Stockdale secures Ulster’s hard-fought victory against Northampton
McFarland’s province stage comeback win to advance to Challenge Cup semi-finals
Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale scores his side’s fifth try against Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens, England. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Northampton 27 Ulster 35
Ulster coach Dan McFarland was playing it with some degree of chill factor at Sandy Park in a match that swept both ways until the last 20 minutes. A semi-final away to Leicester on April 30th – May 2nd awaits, Ulster’s third successive trip to England in their quest to win the European Challenge Cup.
Ulster, the much stronger finishers, went behind in the game and, led by captain and man of the match Jordi Murphy, came back to ultimately surge away. Discipline, attitude, physicality all played their part in a flawed but uplifting win for the province.
“We were poor in some aspects of play,” said McFarland. “The areas of the game we improved in were attitudinal ones, not technical ones. Speed to the break is attitude and focus. Physicality on the gain line is an attitude we had to deal with.”
For a while it looked like Ulster had not turned up with the attitude McFarland described as Northampton went through an excruciating opening period which turned out not to be so bad at all for them.
Between nine minutes and 22 minutes, they had three players sin-binned, Nick Isiekwe went off for a reckless head-led tackle on Billy Burns, before Sam Matavesi pulled down a lineout drive and Ulster were awarded a penalty try. Finally, David Ribbans was shown yellow for another infringement at the maul, prompting French referee Alexandre Ruiz to lecture Northampton over the growing penalty count.
Ulster emerged from that phase just 10-14 ahead, small gain for their numerical advantage. But hooker Rob Herring added to the penalty try on 25 minutes again from hard carries after a lineout maul with Piers Francis kicking for Northampton and it was 10-14 after 25 minutes.
It was then the fear factor for Ulster that kicked in. Almost as soon as the home side had a full complement of players, Tommy Freeman struck within a two-minute spell for his debut and second try in European rugby, the second one with the fullback running 40 metres to put Northampton 22-14 ahead at half-time.
Ulster were showing they were dangerous and put themselves in the right areas of the pitch, although, the scores were not as free flowing as they would have liked. But they calmly kept coming.
Prop Marty Moore bludgeoned his way over with a little help from his friends after Nick Timoney picked from the base and made ground for 22-21 but against the lead changed when some silky Northampton hands allowed Ollie Sleightholme in the corner for 27-21.
Again Ulster responded when John Cooney stretched through a tangled wall of bodies. His conversion saw Ulster thrust ahead again 27-28. As mistakes began to creep into Northampton’s game Ulster continued sweeping forward, unafraid of the hard yards and holding the ball.
Finally it was Burns who put Jacob Stockdale in for the try that sealed the match on 72 minutes. The Ulster outhalf dummied a pass and delivered close in to the big winger who was impossible to stop, Cooney again converting for 27-35.
“We were poor is some aspects of our play especially in defence,” conceded the Ulster coach. “Because we knew we were coming here to weather a physical battle and we didn’t do that.
“But our driving maul was dominant. We made them give penalty after penalty away. We had a lot to talk about at half-time. The physical battle was the thing we had to get a grip of. I’d describe it as us all giving each other kicks up the arse at half-time. It wasn’t complicated.”
Scoring sequence – 4 mins: A Mitchell try, P Francis con 7-0; 12: Penalty try 7-7; 16: Francis pen 10-7; 25: R Herring try, J Cooney con 10-14; 33: T Freeman try 15-14; 35: Freeman try, Francis con 22-14. Half-time. 47: M Moore try, Cooney pen 22-21; 58: O Sleightholme try 27-21; 62: Cooney try, Cooney con 27-28; 72: J Stockdale try, Cooney con 27-35;
NORTHAMPTON: T Freeman; O Sleightholme, R Hutchinson, P Francis, T Naiyaravoro; D Biggar, A Mitchell; A Waller (capt), S Matavesi, P Hill; D Ribbans, A Coles; N Isiekwe, L Ludlam, T Harrison. Replacements: A Tuala for Naiyaravoro (6 mins), F Dingwall for Freeman (55), E Painter for Hill, A Waller for Auterav, M Haywood for Matavesi (all 66), A Moon for Coles (69), T Wood for Isiekwe (73), T James for Mitchell (76).
ULSTER: M Lowry; R Baloucoune, J Hume, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Burns, J Cooney; E O’Sullivan, R Herring, M Moore; A O’Connor, K Treadwell; S Reidy, J Murphy (capt), N Timoney. Replacements: M Rea for Reidy (50 mins), T O’Toole for Moore (57), E McIlroy for Lowry (60), A Warwick for O’Sullivan (66), I Madigan for Burns (76), A Mathewson for Hume (79).